Is the 21st Century Woman represented at Cannes?

PAA039Last week, Cannes organisers Ascential announced that they are launching an advisory committee ‘to help shape the future’ of  International Festival of Creativity. Amid criticism of reduced creativity and quality, it seems that the organisers are keen to make the changes that ensure the event stays true to its purpose.
But with the future of the Lions uncertain, it’s just as important to bear in mind what those outside of the world of advertising might make of our efforts when it comes to ‘creativity’ too.
At Partners Andrews Aldridge this year, we’ve been focusing on understanding the 21st Century Woman – and how brands represent and speak to her. After all, women represent a huge 80% of all purchasing decisions, so their influence on brands cannot be underestimated.
At times, our research findings – like the realisation that 76% of women feel that brands do not represent them and 40% cite brands and advertising as one of the main reasons to feel self-critical – have been sobering.
But Cannes has historically represented the height of what our industry is capable of. A global celebration of the best of the best. So do real women value what we do, or have we become too indulgent and insular for our own good? Could Cannes benefit from an advisory panel after all?
We invited a panel of women from outside the world of advertising to our state-of-the-art Experience Lab to find out what makes a good ad and how brands can avoid those all-too-common pitfalls. Here’s what they told us:
Be single-minded
Whether it’s the message that there’s no limit to what Paralympians can achieve in Channel 4’s ‘We Are Superhumans’ or the boldness of ‘Fearless Girl’ – commissioned by State Street Global Advisors through McCann New York – the best campaigns have simplicity at their heart. Our focus groups lauded these campaigns as “inspirational and amazing to see” and “simple and not forced” respectively.
Tackle the difficult issues…
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that ‘Fearless Girl’, this year’s three-time Grand Prix winner, was a firm favourite among our focus groups. Tipped by our groups as the campaign most likely to affect meaningful change in gender inequality, it was a resounding reflection of the comments made by the Glass Jury. “It’s so empowering. You see it and think ‘you’re a girl, you could do anything’.”
…but always do so carefully
Of course, tackling gender inequality will have its complexities, and our panel reinforced the requirement that brands must ensure their attempts are well thought out. The issue of authenticity was raised, when our focus groups questioned the validity of traditionally dominated male brands talking about gender inequality. Both focus groups struggled with Audi’s ‘Daughter’ and Tecate’s ‘Gender Violence’, because they “feel very contrived, very twisted”, even though in both cases “the ultimate message is a good one”.
Consider both male and female responses
Whilst championing ‘Fearless Girl’ and ‘Daughter’ for their positive messaging, our focus groups ultimately identified that men may respond in different ways than they do. “I’d like to think this would have a positive impact on my dad,” said one participant, of ‘Daughter’. “I’m not so sure men would get it,” said another of ‘Fearless Girl’. For brands searching to make meaningful change, engaging men in the dialogue of campaigns with gender inequality is a must.
Keep it real
From airbrushing, to the disproportionate use of tall, slim, white models, our panel of women were adamant that brands still often fail to accurately represent real life. They praised John Lewis for presenting a realistic view of family life – “they feel like they could be my neighbours” – and Kenzo’s ‘Kenzo World’ for being “relatable…that’s really empowering to show a woman not being perfect and letting her frustrations go”.
During Cannes week, it can be all too easy to hide in the Cannes rabbit-hole. To get lost in the talks, the rows upon rows of shortlisted work in the Palais, the award ceremonies and yacht parties. Our own little Wonderland can become very dangerous indeed.
Erminia-BlackdenBecause by looking so intently inwards, we can all too quickly trip ourselves up. And ultimately by celebrating the end-product, we risk of losing sight of the customers who make it all possible.
When it comes to engaging the 21st Century Woman, there’s still room for improvement. Both in their perception of advertising, and indeed in the advertising that still inaccurately represents those women.
And as Ascential reconsiders Cannes going forward, the moment is right to be asking these questions. Let’s just hope they don’t lose sight of the people who actually matter.

Erminia Blackden is head of strategy at Partners Andrews Aldridge

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